Here I lie on my bed, listening to James Taylor songs and Google imaging pictures of that day. The day our nation crumbled like the foundation of the buildings that collapsed, and the plane that plummeted to the ground. The day my first grade teacher shut off the lights in the middle of her lesson and told us we were going to have drawing time. The day I drew a rainbow with light purple and green crayons because I couldn’t find the other colors. The day parents came by our classroom doorway, picking up children one by one without explanation. There was no doubt in my mind I would be in school the rest of that day, until I saw my mother in her blue and purple windbreaker and messily tied hair approaching my table. I couldn’t imagine what could be so important for her to pick me up from school early. Even during my afterschool activities, I was always the last to leave since she got home late from work.
We were given no answers because there were none to give. “Ms. Rountos, what’s happening?” we asked. “I don’t know. The principal doesn’t even know.” Don’t principals know everything? So we sat and drew pictures of pretty things to fill the space left by our open questions.
At home, I leaned over the wooden kitchen counter, looking at the smoky images on the TV screen. I didn’t get it. So a building was on fire. Why did I have to get picked up from school for that? Over the next few days, Daddy came home from his business trip in Santa Fe. We watched the smoky images at breakfast and he tried to explain to me how a plane crashed into that building and that it collapsed.
I asked what are often considered childish questions, “How?” and “Why?” but in this case, they were perhaps the only mature ones. I didn’t understand that the smoky images were a recording, not live, and that many people were already dead. I didn’t understand why there were so many “missing” signs on the lampposts on every corner. I didn’t understand until a few weeks ago that my father had to drive across the country with three other coworkers since there were no flights leaving anywhere in the country. I didn’t understand that the planes I heard that following week were military planes. I didn’t understand that evil really existed in the world.
All I knew was the smell of smoke from a hundred blocks away. The smell that wafted over that long stretch of cement and asphalt, curled around the metal wiring of my window screen, and sashayed around the childish murals on my bedroom walls and the clung to the synthetic fibers of my dolls’ hair.
For the next nine years, when I woke up on that day, I’d walk past a TV solemnly chanting names around a bed of roses. By then I knew what had happened, and I knew there was a war because of it. I knew it was called “terrorism,” although I didn’t know there were things in this category that happened before. I knew that day didn’t just involve New York, or those two buildings, but the entire country. I knew why I had to learn and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and why buying an American flag to put in our front window was suddenly a great concern and household necessity. I knew it was harder to go through an airport, and I knew that the Engine 1 firefighters who I had met at a street fair downtown just weeks before the attack, were heroes who I’d never meet again.
But it took ten years to decide on the proper use of Ground Zero. Ten years to build the serene fountain memorials that I saw on the TV today. Ten years to carve every single name into stone. Ten years of remembering, and finally I understand. As I listened to the names of the victims being read this year, as a sixteen year old, I felt my heart connect to theirs. When the sturdy looking man choked on his son’s name, I choked too. When the little boy thanked his father who he never met for loving the idea of him, I cried, and each time the bell was rung for a moment of silence, I sobbed because I could not even imagine the courageousness of the men and women who died at those times ten years ago.
Lauren Feiner, Age 17, Grade 12, Bronx High School of Science, Silver Key